Monday, April 24, 2006

free college tuition for youngstown city students

The school district in the city of Kalamazoo (MI) has attacted a lot of press with their "Kalamazoo Promise" - an effort to send all of their public school students to college in Michigan for free. A few recent articles have shown the possible impact that this announcement has had in the community.

With its commitment to the Promise, Kalamazoo is upsetting the traditional economic-development model. In the past, blighted cities across the nation signed onto various types of revitalization plans. Mainly, they focused on physical improvements -- including new public spaces, office parks and other civic amenities -- in hopes of spurring economic and social progress.

Words such as "education-minded" and "investment in the right places" have been used to describe this project. Housing constuction is up in the city, and 277 youngsters are registered to start kindergarten next September -- up from 193 last year.


I propose a similar project to be implemented by the Youngstown City Schools, perhaps based on the Kalamazoo model, to guarantee full college tuition at Youngstown State University to any city school graduate. Other stipulations such as high school g.p.a. requirements, YSU g.p.a. requirements can be added to the program to provide extra incentives for students to work hard. Other components such as required community service hours and internship opportunities can also be tied to the proposal.

But it is just a proposal. We need to take it to the next level and perform an analysis on the costs and scope of the concept. Tuition at YSU for an in-state student per academic year is around $6500. I'm going to estimate 500 students graduate from the Youngstown City public high school in a given year. (Data is not easily accessible at the school district's website plus with all the open enrollment issues, this number is just an approximation). With students choosing other universities and participation in Youngstown Early College tweaking this number, the maximum amount of money needed per year for this type of program is 3 million dollars.

3 million dollars is just a back of the envelope calculation, but this seems to not be an enormous figure - especially considering the potential impact of the program.

What I like about the Kalamazoo Promise is its boldness. When I heard about it for the first time I thought "sweet jesus, that is a big commitment". But the truth is, we need a statement in Youngstown that we too are committed to the youth of the city. A program like this may help rise the depressingly low dropout rates in the public schools, as well as raising an individual student's desire to work hard.

And it sends a message to the rest of the country, if not the world, that the city of Youngstown is serious about education.

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